I had to read this book for school and I was pleasantly surprised by it. Even though it is non-fiction, it reads like a novel. It kept my attention better than any textbook would and I will most definitely read it again for pleasure!
A great Pulitzer prize winning book. It develops the parts of the history of our founding that have been missing or forgotten. Goes into the thought processes of the "founding Brothers" ( Not fathers) and how they handled their relationships and what made them tick. From Washington to Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Hamilton and even gos into Burr and the duel. Really recommend it.
This review is from: Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation (Hardcover)
This book was my first experience with Mr. Ellis and it will definitely be my last--life is short, good books are many, and Ellis is just plain inferior.
As an overview of people and central events, Founding Brothers doesn't entirely fail and may even be called adequate since it's engagingly written and may inspire further study. But to anyone more than superficially acquainted with the era and the men in question, and more interested in a historically sound and fair analysis rather than the currently-prevailing P.C. approach to America's founding embraced by Mr. Ellis, the book not only disappoints, it occasionally disgusts.
Most irritating to me was the fact that a) Mr. Ellis' personal politics are glaringly obvious in his work, and b) he attributes the worst possible motives to everyone. In his world, no one is selfless or has an eye toward the greater good--except maybe his one big hero, John Adams. His favorite target is Thomas Jefferson. Indeed, it is amazing to me that Mr. Ellis could have borne with the company of a man he so obviously holds in contempt long enough to have written an entire book about him (American Sphinx). And my favorite example of this ridiculous and petulant disdain is that he accuses Jefferson of purposely willing himself to die on July 4, 1826 so that he could make a grand and immortalizing exit--one of the greatest P.R. stunts of all time. That Mr. Ellis thinks such nonsense a more plausible motive than a dying Jefferson determined to live long enough to see for himself the dawning of the 50th anniversary of the independence he'd helped to secure says some unflattering things about the author.
After reading the book, I was not surprised a few months ago when Mr. Ellis was disciplined by his college (Mt. Holyoke, I believe) for lying to his students about his alleged exploits in Vietnam. Such behavior is congruent with the essence of a man who could look so smugly down on the integrity of our nation's greatest heroes and find them wanting. The revelation and punishment of Ellis' own indiscretions seems a kind of poetic justice. And though a few lies to impressionable students don't negate the body of Ellis' work, they do put a few dings in his credibility and turn a cynical eye on the morally superior stance he takes in relation to his very worthy subjects.
I won't say don't read this book, but if you do read it, read CRITICALLY. Question Mr. Ellis' assertions and conclusions--as, indeed, all of us should with everything we read. And above all, since one book does not an education make, consult other sources--not limited to, but certainly including those that have stood the test of time and are considered to be the definitive works on their subject--i.e. on Washington, James Flexner's books or Douglas Southall Freeman's series; on Jefferson, Willard Sterne Randall's biography and Dumas Malone's famous multivolume superbio.
The men who founded the American nation were some of the finest people who've ever walked the earth. They merit study and emulation. They also deserve better treatment from the heirs of their life's labors and sacrifices than that accorded them in Founding Brothers.
Read Ellis' latest if you will, but let it be a launching pad to the truly great books available about these men and the enduring nation they founded
I wish I had read this before seeing the PBS series. It is illuminating to see behind the veil of time and learn about the human qualities of these great men who are usually viewed through our history books as near perfect. It is also greatly satisfying to read a book that is so well written. Mr Ellis offers us a slice of history that is not only extremely well researched but also literate and highly readable. I loved this book.
There were some fascinating parts of this book that I really enjoyed. "The Duel" about Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton during which Hamilton is shot and dies a day later from his injury was quite interesting. Likewise, "The Dinner" and "The Friendship" were fun to read. The former is about a dinner given by Thomas Jefferson was described by Jefferson from his biased viewpoint as he attempted to bring Alexander Hamilton and James Madison together to exchange and hopefully moderate their political views. The friendship between Adams and Jefferson was discontinued for many years due to differing political views. When it resumes after they both retired the two men rediscovered what they liked about one another. I have read several books about both and enjoyed the detail in this one that expounded on the friendship.
Rebecca S. - , reviewed Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation on
Helpful Score: 1
Many details are added that you wouldn't find in a broader book of the American Revolution. Though the content does make this book one you need a quiet space to focus on. If you're interested in this topic and like to find out more or less obscure information, you'd like this book. Basic knowledge of the American Revolutionaries (Burr, Jefferson, Adams, etc) is a must.
This is an excellent read for students of early U.S. history. There were parts I found tedious, but overall it is a fascinating work and deserved the Pulitzer Prize for History.
Sadly, it also confirmed my low opinion of Thomas Jefferson, despite what school history texts would like you to believe. Even the author states Jefferson told people, even his own party, what they wanted to hear. Whereas Adams told them what they needed to know. Neither was perfect, but Adams is the one I'd trust.
David McCullough also received the Pulitzer Prize for his book on John Adams. That was a great read. Unfortunately, the TV series based on that book changed so much around that I had to wonder why the producers hated John Adams.
Author puts his emphasis on their personalities and to some extent, their relationships (it was before they invented Twitter, so much of what they said was by correspondence, most of it was more profound than "R U in the bathroom?", and there were only 140 or so letters between Jefferson and Adams in 25 years, for instance.) Rather short book, so you could define it as an "easy read".
I think this book has some interesting stories about the men who are referred to as our founding fathers. Some chapters are dry and reiterate information from others books I have read. The first story about the duel of Hamilton and Burr gave me knowledge I was unaware of. The friendship of Jefferson and Adams was discussed at length which I read about in two other books.Overall the book is worth the time.
A book that Dr. Ellis wanted to do as he gradually wound down his career or that is how I see it. The distinguished author, in six chapters about chosen events, explains how the Founding Fathers muddled through during the Federal Era. These are really essays, best read by those with some background knowledge.
I read Chapter Four 'The Farewell' while on the long bus trip from the VA Hospital, where I'd dropped off some nonfiction books, back to East LA. Washington's Farewell Address (never delivered, but printed on the inside page of the American Daily Advertiser (Philadelphia, 19 September 1796) was of great interest because active politicos had noted signs earlier in the year that he would not run again, but we readers are reminded what short notice he gave; a few weeks before the Electors would be chosen. Dr. Ellis notes that GW subscribed to ten newspapers.
Dr. Ellis shares with readers what these words meant to GW, to his countrymen, to Americans in the 19th C. and to us in recent decades. "The precedent he was setting may have seemed uplifting in retrospect, but at the time the glaring and painful reality was that the United States without Washington was itself unprecedented." His character is succinctly discussed, including shortcomings, but in an age when goverments were royal, his decision not to die in office was vital to the republic.
The author helps readers understand the importance of the points he makes. Note that 'entagling alliances' is from Jefferson's first innagural.
Ellis explains what the caution to avoid foreigners troubles meant to Washington (develop America first!), problems this caused his administration with the Jay Treaty, and to later politicians and editorial writers that cite the Farewell Address.
I urge readers to note his letter to the Cherokees and his thoughts on slavery because Ellis brings forth his thoughts based on decades of research into an issue that was by agreement not then argued in Congress or by the president lest the fragile Union be sundered. However, evidence is cited that GW felt the problem would diminish starting in 1808 and Ellis points out that, unlike his fellow Virginians, GW never spoke in favor of sending Blacks to Africa and "he tended to regard the condition of the Black population as a product of nurture rathen than nature--that is, he saw slavery as the culprit, preventing the development of diligence and responsibility that would emerge gradually and naturally after emancipation." The authors finds it significant that GW's will provided for the emancipation of his slaves upon Martha's death and that "he also made even more elaborate provisions to guarantee that Mount Vernon would be sold off in pieces, part of the proceeds used to support his freed slaves and their children for several decades into the future. His action on this score, as usual, spoke louder than his words."
GW wrote his Address to the Cherokee Nation in late August 1796. He believed that settlers would inexorably move westward and that the hunting and gathering way of life, requiring vast areas of land, was doomed. GW urged that they embrace farming and ranching to forestall ruination.
A week later I was fortunate to read Chapter Three: The Silence. This is about the inability to address slavery lest it shatter the Union and includes the arguments in favor, arguments against, what transpired in the closed discussions when writing the Constitution, and examination of how manumission might be accomplished. Dr. Ellis offers succinct summaries, as usual, and identifies two problems in freeing the slaves. First, where would they go as the British effort in Sierra Leone was very marginal and Spain owned the western areas proposed for Black settlement. Second, how to pay the owners for the loss of their capital. Ellis believes that given a valuation of a hundred to two hundred dollars each, the payment could have been made, noting that with both the Black and White population was rapidly increasing, 1790 was the last chance. It would have tripled the amount already assumed in state and federal debts, but with a sinking fund was possible. He notes that we are looking back, knowing the history, and they were trying to look forward. The federal budget was seven million dollars, five percent of the amount needed to free the slaves.
Given interested students, the entire essay could be read and discussed. Or the whole class could read and discuss the first few pages starting with a troublesome Quaker calling for abolition, breaking the silence, Dr. Ellis laying out the situation as public debate in the First Congress began, and then skipping to the last ten pages or so when Franklin pleads for manumission.
On February 11, 1790, twon groups of Quakers (from NY and Penn.) presented their petitions and the Rep. James Jackson of Georgia urged that they not be accepted. A petition from a Pennsylvania abolition group, signed by Franklin, was submitted the next day. The debate was on as the South did not want the petitions even tabled, which reminds me of J.Q. Adams' future days in Congress. "Franklin's endorsement of the petitions from the Pennsylvania Abolition Society effectively assured that the preferred Madisonian strategy--calmly receiving these requests, then banishing them to the congressional version of oblivion--was not going to work. In fact, the ongoing debate on the assumption and residency was set aside for the entire day as the House put itself into committee of then whole to permit unencumbered debate on the petitions. During the course of that debate, which lasted between four and six hours, things were said that had never before been uttered in any public forum at the national level."
In the end, the can was kicked down the road with the agreement that there would be no debate on emancipation until the slave trade ended in 1808. This resulted in gradual emancipation not being possible. "Whatever window of opportunity had existed to complete the one glaring piece of unfinished business in the revolutionary era was now closed."
Endnotes with citations and comments on the available sources, Index.